By Paul Anderson: The idea for a trip to Morehead City to dive off Cape Lookout at the North Carolina coast came from mine and Bob Laney’s scuba diving trip to Key Largo in July 2007. We wanted to dive on the wreck of The Spiegel Grove near Key Largo, FL. But the dive outfitter would not take us there, since Bob did not have his Advanced Open Water Certification. Even though Bob had had dived on wrecks to 100 feet depth, made other dives at night, in heavy current, done navigation, helped in a (minor) rescue, done a total of about 35 dives, and all the other advanced diver skills, he did not have a piece of paper saying so. We had to skip the Spiegel Grove. On the way home, I proposed going to Morehead City later that fall with the Blue Dolphin Dive Center, since an instructor would be with the group who could give Bob the advanced certification.
Then, as the planned trip approached, Bob developed conflicts. So, I planned another trip and recruited Dave Smith, who decided to pursue his Advanced Certification. We booked the trip the weekend of October 20 with Olympus Dive Center in Morehead Center. Friday morning we headed east, stopping in Winston-Salem to pick up tanks and weights at the Blue Dolphin shop. We arrived in Morehead City about 4 p.m. and went straight to Olympus. We were checked in and we loaded our dive gear on the boat for the 7 a.m. departure the next morning.
We stayed at the Olympus Dive Lodge located about a block away from the shop. It was really just a basic bunkhouse, but it suited our purposes. We made it to the dive shop the next morning at 6:30 a.m. After waiting for a while, we were told that it was too rough to go out for our double (two tank) dive. Bad weather cancellations are much more typical for Atlantic Ocean diving than for Caribbean Sea diving. So, we went to the NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores on Bogue Banks, and toured Fort Macon at the north end of the island. We ate the lunch we had packed for the boat.
When we got back to the lodge we were told that the boat was going out that afternoon for a single dive nearer to shore. Most dives are a 2 hour boat ride out to near the Gulf Stream. This would be a one hour ride. The water was moderately choppy and several divers were sick on this trip. We had taken a less drowsy form of Dramamine and wore acupressure bands on our wrist and were fine. When we arrived at the site, the wreck of the Indra, the Olympus dive master carried a line down to the wreck and attached our boat to the shipwreck.
We did a giant stride entry off the port side of the boat and followed the line down to the wreck at 65 feet. The visibility was not very good at 15 to 20 feet and the water temperature was a chilly 74 degrees. These poor conditions are also typical of the Atlantic. We both had some trouble equalizing our ear pressure on our descent but got down okay. I stayed close to Dave and his instructor and took some video of the wreck and the many fish that surrounded the ship. I was hoping for some large barracuda and sand tiger sharks but saw none. After 30 minutes on the bottom (a short dive compared to the Caribbean) we made a slow ascent to 15 feet, where we took the standard 3 minute safety stop. Then we made our way to the ladder at the stern of our boat and hauled ourselves out of the water.
That evening we had a pleasant meal at the Sanitary Seafood Restaurant with some of the other divers. Then we turned in early for the night. Sunday morning. [Editor’s note: these type trips are rarely raucous affairs; nobody has yet been tossed in jail overnight.] I got up early for the second day of diving but my right ear didn't feel correct from the previous day's diving, so I decided not to go on the boat. Dave did, had two great dives, and completed his advanced certification. I am willing to try it again and am hoping the third time will be the charm for me.
By Dave Smith: Paul and I decided to go wreck diving off the East Coast. I was completing my advanced open water certificate with PADI diving instructor Larry Kempton, who works for the Blue Dolphin Dive Shop in Winston-Salem. Paul earned his certificate years before. Two of the three wrecks that we dived this weekend were much deeper at 105 feet than I had ever been, but I was confident that I could do it, especially since Larry and Paul were there. We had heard that October was the best time to dive off the coast to see large animals on the wrecks - big sharks! We had also heard that the exotic lionfish may be spotted. Voila, we saw them both. Actually, though the sharks were big - and close - they were sand tiger sharks, known to be docile around humans.
We planned to do four dives: two on Friday and two on Saturday. On the first day, the seas were too rough, so the morning dive was canceled. Luckily the seas calmed by afternoon and we were able to do a closer dive at about 65 feet deep. The visibility was pretty bad, though it was exciting. The wreck was called the Indra. Paul got some good video shots.
The next day we dove two wrecks. It took about 2 hours to get to the first site. This was a beautiful dive onto a wreck called the Schurz, an American steamship that sank in 1918 due to a collision. The visibility was excellent - about 70 feet, but the captain said we might have visibility problems because of SO MANY FISH! He was right. We could just drift into clouds of fish. We went down to about 105 feet. As soon as we reached the wreck, my instructor spotted a beautiful lionfish. I got some good pictures. Lionfish are not supposed to be there. They have been introduced and could cause problems for the natives. Check out www.reef.org for more info.
The last dive was by far the most exciting dive that I had ever done. The wreck was called the Aleous. The captain explained that sharks would probably be there. Right again! The ship was a trans-Atlantic cable layer. He explained that there was a large "key hole" to look down into and see the sharks lurking. This keyhole is where the cable came out of the ship. Several hurricanes ago the ship was actually broken into several large parts. After viewing some beauties from the key hole, we swam to a section where there was a large dark room with lots of fish and sharks. Above this room was the keyhole. I knew (or hoped…) the sharks were docile, so I swam directly into the room and came face-to-face with a large snaggle-toothed sand tiger. I am not really brave, just excited, and I wanted to get a good close-up picture. The instructor said "Go for it!" so I did. Wow, so neat.
Paul and I are definitely going back next year. Despite the logistical headaches, it is still much closer and less expensive than a flight to the Caribbean. We hope that Bob can go with us.